About Paula Escobar

Paula Escobar is a Colombian lawyer recently graduated from New York University School of Law, where she received an LL.M in International Legal Studies with special focus on human rights and international humanitarian law. She was an intern in the Organization of American States, where she researched a variety of international legal matters relating to terrorism, and also worked for a local law firm in Colombia, investigating and drafting international claims of human rights violations submitted to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
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US Media: American Waterboarding Good, Foreign Waterboarding Bad

According to a new study from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, since the beginning of the “war on terror,” and especially since the Abu Ghraib torture scandal, the nation’s four widest circulated newspapers, the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Wall Street Journal and USA Today, have had a “significant and sudden shift in how [they have] characterized waterboarding.”

The study shows very interesting findings regarding the characterization of waterboarding in a number of articles over the last 70 years. From the 1930s and until 2002-2004, the Media that covered waterboarding considered it torture, or at least implied that it was torture. However, after it was clear that the U.S. was using this interrogation technique, those newspapers stopped referring, in most of the cases, to it as a form of torture.

Instead, they started giving it a “softer and less negative” connotation using words like “harsh,” “coercive” and “controversial.” For example, while the New York Times, between 1931 and 1999, considered waterboarding as torture in 81.5% of the articles that mentioned the practice, between 2002 and 2008, waterboarding was only considered as torture in 1.4% of the cases. The percentages of articles in the LA Times reflect almost the same pattern.

But ironically, when waterboarding was used in a country other than the United States, the newspapers under the study indeed referred to it as torture.

The study concludes that the change in waterboarding’s characterization is not due to the Media’s efforts “to remain neutral in the debate going on in the U.S.,” as some suggest. Rather, since waterboarding has always been considered as torture under American and international law, “the newspaper’s equivocation on waterboarding can hardly be termed neutral.”

Join our call for a full investigation into the US government’s use of torture.

Cleared for Release for Years But Still Detained

Mohammed Mohammed Hassan al-Odaini is a 24-year-old Yemeni national held in Guantanamo for more than 8 years, despite the fact that he was cleared for release over 4 years ago.

In 2002, when he was studying Islamic law at Salafi University in Faisalabad, Pakistan, the police raided a house where he was dining with other Yemeni nationals. Due to their presumed links to al-Qaeda, they were all handed to U.S. authorities, and days later transferred to Guantanamo. In 2005, al-Odaini was cleared for release from the detention facility, and furthermore, in May 2010, a U.S. federal judge ordered the administration to “take all necessary and appropriate diplomatic steps” to arrange his discharge.

There are almost 30 other Yemenis held in Guantanamo without charge or trial, even though they were cleared for release by an interagency task force created by President Obama.

However, their situation is hopefully about to change. According to The Washington Post, “[t]he Obama administration is considering partially lifting its suspension of all transfers of Guantanamo Bay detainees to Yemen”, due to the national and international pressure on al-Odaini’s case.

The U.S. might permit the transfer to their home country of Yemeni detainees–including al-Odaini—that were already cleared for release. Those transfers were suspended by President Obama in January 2010 after the thwarted Christmas Day bombing by a Nigerian national that had been in Yemen.

In the meantime, Amnesty International is still deeply concerned that al-Odani and other Yemeni nationals remain illegally detained in Guantanamo after years of delay. Join us in urging President Obama, Attorney General and Secretary of State Clinton to release Mohammed al-Odaini immediately.

SCOTUS to Arar: the USA Can Send You to Be Tortured

Maher Arar is reunited with his family after being released from Syria where he was held for almost a year without charge.

Maher Arar is a 34-year-old engineer and Canadian citizen born in Syria. According to Arar, in 2002, while he was in transit in New York City’s JFK Airport, after coming back from a vacation with his family, he was interrogated and detained by U.S. Officials alleging presumed links to al-Qaeda. Days later, he was secretly rendered to Syria, where he was held for almost one year under no formal charges, constant torture –including severe beating and the constant threat to be tortured harder— and was forced to falsely confess his links to the organization.

Most of the time he was held on a three feet wide, six feet deep and seven feet high cell, with no windows and with rats and cats everywhere.  After his release to Canada, the Government created a Commission of Inquiry that cleared Arar from all terrorist allegations and entitled him to compensation.

In 2004, in order to determine the responsibility of the U.S. Officials involved in his rendition to torture, Maher Arar filed a suit in the District Court for the Eastern District of New York against former Attorney General John Ashcroft, FBI Director Robert Mueller, and Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge, as well as numerous Immigration Officials. However, the District Court of Brooklyn dismissed the suit, based on national security grounds. It held that the reasons why Arar was considered a member of al-Qaeda and transferred to Syria, were state secrets and that their disclosure would reveal intelligence methods, affecting national security and U.S. foreign relations.

In 2006, he appealed the decision before the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, which upheld the dismissal, and for those reasons, in 2010, he petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to review his case.

On June 14, 2010, the Supreme Court rejected his writ of certiorari, eliminating Maher Arar’s last hope to find an answer in the U.S. judicial system for the “egregious wrong done” to him, as one of his lawyers said.


What Does Guantanamo Cost Us?

According to a recent Washington Post article, since 2001, the Pentagon has spent at least 500 million in renovating Guantanamo, in addition to approximately 150 million a year in operational costs.

Some interesting expenditures for base personnel:  volleyball court ($259,000); go-kart track ($296,000); 27 playgrounds (for a total of $3.5 million); a KFC/Taco Bell restaurant ($733,000); and a café whose renovation only cost $683,000.

Even if the amount invested does not include the annual operating costs of $150 million—which according to the White House double the amount of a comparable U.S. federal prison—it does include other costly expenditures, such as Camp 7 (13 million).

But what have torture, indefinite detention and unfair trials at Guantanamo cost in undermining human rights, the rule of law and America’s reputation and influence?

There are a million reasons to close Guantanamo right now. Especially since domestic U.S. prisons already safely hold convicted terrorists and U.S. federal courts have a far better track record than military commissions of prosecuting terrorism cases since 2001—at far less cost.